They knew God but they became futile.
They claimed to be wise but they became fools.
They exchanged the glory for cheap figurines.
But who are they?
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1: 21-23)
But who are they?
It reads like the Roman Christians are not unaware of who Paul is referring to. The Christian Church in Rome is made up of both Jewish and Gentile converts. Paul, a Jew, is doing what the Jewish writers had always done and that is condemned the Gentile for their actions. It appears that the readers had heard this all before. So why is Paul doing this? Are we not all one in Christ? (Paul believed this) Is he really stirring up trouble needlessly? Where is he going with this? The answer to that is hugely significant especially in the next few verses when he identifies sinful practices. For at the same time that the Gentiles were being condemned the Jews took the opportunity to gloat being the superior people. Paul is leading to his addressing of self-righteousness and that actually the Jew has no advantage over the Gentile at all. They don’t know that yet. But they soon will as they continue in the letter.
So even before we get to the list it is worth reminding ourselves that those people we judge and even condemn for their sinful practices are people who do live futile, foolish lives and who may even worship cheap figurines. However haven’t we? Are we any better? Before we get our placards out to demonstrate ask yourself: have you always glorified God? Do you really know it all? Do people see the glory of God shining through your life? Isn’t the whole of mankind better described as futile, fools and centred on figurines? The gospel never gives anyone at any time the superiority over anyone else. Paul believed we all have sinned …